Intelligence services had been monitoring at least one Lashkar-e-Taiba cell in the Valley which had been plotting an attack on the XVI Corps headquarters in Nagrota for at least two weeks before the Tuesday attack that claimed the lives of seven Army personnel, highly placed government sources have told The Indian Express.
The intelligence services last warned of an imminent strike on a high-value military target in Jammu just ten days ago, the sources said.
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Though the Valley-based cell was not involved in Tuesday’s attack, officials familiar with the intelligence said, the existence of the warning has raised questions on how the attackers succeeded in traversing the route to Nagrota, and what additional security measures were put in place at sensitive installations.
Few details have emerged on precisely how the attack was carried out, but the attackers appeared to have entered the Nagrota complex by scaling its perimeter wall from the rear, military sources said. The terrorists headed towards a complex of buildings which house officers and their families, killing an officer and three soldiers in the first fire contact.
Later, another officer and two soldiers were killed as efforts were made to rescue over a dozen soldiers, two women and at least two children who were trapped inside the building occupied by the terrorists, Army sources said.
There was no official comment from Northern Command on how the terrorists had entered the base, though officials said three terrorists had been confirmed killed in the operation.
A top military officer said the operation suggested that the terrorists were familiar with the Nagrota camp layout and perimeter vulnerabilities, suggesting they may have gathered intelligence from civilians with access to the facility. “This is something that will have to be investigated, but it does seem probable, given how the attack played out,” the officer said.
Even though the terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase in January succeeded in entering it by simply jumping over the perimeter wall by bending over eucalyptus trees planted alongside, there has been no thoroughgoing national audit of security at defence installations across the country. “There are hundreds of bases and facilities which lack even closed-circuit camera coverage, let alone sensors and other equipment,” a senior official of the Ministry of Defence said.
In the Pathankot case, the terrorists spent part of the night and an entire day inside an abandoned storage area before launching their attack, raising speculation that the group had intelligence on the base. National Investigation Agency detectives have, however, been unable to identify any suspect so far. “Thousands of people had access to the base,” an investigator said, “with no proper screening”.
Likely linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, another senior military officer said, the attackers are thought to have infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir inside the last 72 hours through the Line of Control in the Sundarbani sector, which has seen intense firing between Indian and Pakistani troops, or the international border in Samba, which is cut across by streams overgrown with elephant grass.
“It’s been relatively easy for terrorists to infiltrate because of the firing,” a security official said. “The clashes make it that much harder to conduct patrols close to the Line of Control.”
Though some reports spoke of the terrorists being transported close to the Nagrota complex in a white car, police and Army sources said they have not yet been able to corroborate these accounts.
Lashkar-e-Taiba intelligence has been known to be gathering information on military targets in the Jammu region since last year, when an alleged surveillance operative was arrested in possession of videos of several installations.